- Title: Voices
- Author: Clarissa Johal
- Genre: Paranormal Psychological Suspense
- Length: 264 pages
- Tour Host: DRC Promotions
- Publisher: Permuted Press
- Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Sometimes the ghosts from your past… are real.
Moira Flynn is arrested for attacking a door-to-door solicitor with a knife. She claims a voice told her the man was intent on assaulting her. The trouble is, she was the only one that heard that voice. Moira strikes a plea bargain and is sent to a psychiatric hospital for voluntary treatment. Dr. Richard Cassano is hesitant to treat her as schizophrenic, as she does not show the standard symptoms. As their sessions progress, Moira confesses there are two voices—and they aren’t voices in her head, but the voices of ghosts. Are they imaginary? Or are they actual spirits, attached to her for reasons of their own? As Moira’s doctor uncovers more of her past, he begins to realize that her ghosts are real. And one of them is determined to drag Moira into the afterlife with him.
Moira choked down a congealed glob of oatmeal. Bland, like all the food here. She picked up her plastic knife and smeared margarine onto a piece of dry toast. Patients were only given plastic utensils. She washed the toast down with a gulp of tepid decaf coffee and sat back, miserable. “I hate this place, I want out.”
“At least your session was cancelled for tomorrow,” Jack said. “One less thing I’ll have to sit through.”
Dr. Cassano didn’t say why, either, Moira worried. He seemed nervous about cancelling too.
“We’ll get out.”
“Not we, Jack, me. I want out.” She stared mournfully at the food on her tray. “I don’t care what happens to you.”
“That’s not nice,” Isabella said.
“I don’t care what happens to you, either.”
“You’re mean!” She retreated to the corner of the room to pout.
“Don’t be mean, Moira,” Jack reprimanded. “Isabella’s just a child.”
She let out a sound of frustration. They both knew Jack didn’t care the slightest about Isabella. “I wonder why Dr. Cassano cancelled it.”
“Why do you care?”
Moira turned away pointedly and undid her braid, hoping to dissuade the headache coming on.
“Don’t ignore me,” Jack said, his voice hardening. “I didn’t like the way he looked at you this morning.” He grabbed her arm.” I don’t like the way you look at him either. I see the way you look at him.”
She shook him off. “You’re paranoid, Jack.”
“You know what I’m talking about, don’t play dumb.” He sat back, his eyes watchful. “Don’t trust him, Moira. Who knows what he’s planning?”
“If you do anything, Jack, I mean anything. They’ll lock the door and throw away the key.” She moved away from his presence. “And don’t think they wouldn’t medicate me with a dozen different pills, all guaranteed to make you go away forever.”
“You know pills won’t make me go away, Moira,” Jack bit out. “They might make you sleep, but they won’t make me go away.”
Silence filled the room. Moira picked up her brush and started brushing out her hair.
“It would be his word against yours, if he ever tried anything.”
“Just drop it, Jack,” Moira said.
Jack narrowed his eyes. “He’d medicate you so you’d never remember it, either.”
She shook her head in disgust.
“Maybe you could bust out of here!” Isabella jumped up. “I’ll bet you could open the window with that knife.” She ran over to the window and pushed against it.
“It’s completely sealed, Isabella.” Moira watched her, feeling helpless to the noise from her efforts. “Stop banging on it! You’re going to get me into trouble.”
“You could cut through the walls!”
“Hello? Plastic knife, it can’t cut anything.”
“It can’t?” Jack asked. “Have you tried?”
She caught his look and quickly turned her attention to Isabella, who was still thumping on the window. “I’m not breaking out of here, Isabella. Do you want me to go to jail?”
“But what if they keep you in here forever?” Isabella asked.
“They’re not going to.”
“But what if they do?” Isabella jumped up and down. “What if they keep you here until you’re old and grey and all your teeth fall out?”
“It would be awful to be stuck here forever,” Jack said quietly. “Wouldn’t it, Moira? Just awful.”
“They’re not going to keep me here forever!” Moira said. “Isabella, stop it!”
The door opened. “Problem?” the nurse asked.
She glanced over at Jack. A slice of a smile crept across his lips. “No. No problem. Just…thinking aloud.”
“Finish up your breakfast, then,” she said briskly. She shut the door again.
Moira picked up her carton of juice and took a sip.
Jack pushed her hand upwards, sloshing juice into Moira’s face and down her T-shirt.
Whoops!” Isabella giggled.
“Asshole,” she muttered. She went into the bathroom with Jack trailing her. Their eyes connected in the mirror.
“Looks like you’ll need another shower,” he murmured.
She pressed her mouth in a straight line and turned her back to him.
“How did it go yesterday?” Dr. Cassano asked.
“Fine.” Moira sat opposite him, hands balled in her lap. Dr. Cassano’s office always smelled like soap and spicy aftershave, she reflected. Kind of like he’s running late and just took a shower.
“Good,” he replied. “Again…sorry about cancelling.”
She unclenched her hands and grasped the armrests of her chair. “So…do I start my medication today?”
He clicked his pen repeatedly. “I think I’m going to hold off for a couple more days. I’m still trying to determine what would suit you.”
A mixture of relief and worry twisted her gut. “Does that mean I’ll have to stay here longer?”
“No, not at all,” he assured her. “You’re still in treatment. I’m just unsure of which direction to go at this point.”
“Oh,” she replied, uncertain.
Dr. Cassano cleared his throat and fidgeted with his pen. Click, click, click. He set his pen down pointedly. “Can we discuss our last session?”
Moira had prepared herself for more questions and shrugged stiffly. “There’s nothing to discuss.”
“I think there is,” he countered. “There was a death that occurred at Mrs. Cook’s. Can we talk about that?”
Moira watched as Isabella circled behind him. She bit her lip.
“Moira,” Dr. Cassano said. “If we’re going to make any progress, you have to start trusting me. This seems upsetting to you, can you tell me why?” He shifted his weight forward to garner her attention. “Do you remember the child’s name?”
“Isabella,” he repeated. “One of the voices you hear.” He paused, seemingly trying to order his thoughts. “Is it the same girl?”
Moira clasped her hands in her lap again and nodded.
“Do you think there’s a reason for that?”
There were a dozen different answers she could give him. Moira found herself mute.
“Were you there when her death occurred?” he asked. “Can you tell me what happened?” Isabella continued to hover at his elbow. Dr. Cassano rubbed his collarbone and shifted his weight again.
For a moment, Moira thought he’d confess he saw both Jack and Isabella. That he would tell them to leave immediately, and they would. This is so messed up, she thought miserably. I hate being the only one who can see them. I hate it.
“Were you there?” Dr. Cassano probed gently.
“I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.”
“Do you remember anything?”
She dug at the brass tack on the armrest of her chair. He probably already knows everything, she thought. Well, almost everything. “We were playing on the swing in the backyard.”
“Me, Liam and Isabella.” She bit her lip. “Isabella ran away.”
“Why did she run away?”
“Did you follow her?”
“Liar,” Isabella muttered.
“Did Liam follow her?”
“No,” Moira repeated, a little louder.
“Why did she run away?”
“I don’t know. She was always doing something.”
“By that, you mean…?”
“Getting into trouble. Causing trouble.”
“I never cause trouble!” Isabella said petulantly. “It’s you, Moira! You!” She stormed over to her. “You started it! I was just making fun!”
“I believe you, Isabella,” Jack said.
Shaking her head, Moira tried to appear unruffled. Between Isabella, Jack, and Dr. Cassano, she didn’t know where to look. She settled for staring at the gold name plaque that sat on his desk.
“You seem uncomfortable,” Dr. Cassano remarked. “What are you experiencing right now?”
Moira clenched her hands. She was not going to let Isabella or Jack get to her, not this time.
“It’s your fault I’m here!” Isabella yelled again. In a fit of rage, she pushed a stack of papers from the desk and retreated to the window.
Dr. Cassano half stood. “What—” Isabella pounded her fist against the glass and he turned with a start.
Moira dug her fingernails into her palms. “Can I go back to my room? I’m not feeling well.”
“Of course,” he said, appearing somewhat rattled. “We’ll continue with this tomorrow.”
They got their food and sat at one of the dining room tables in the corner. Moira pretended not to notice a couple of raised eyebrows from the other patients.
“How long have you been able to see them?”
“For a while,” Moira replied vaguely.
Adam picked up his dinner roll and took a large bite. “My guess is longer than just ‘a while.’”
Moira’s attention was captured again by his green eye, so sharply contrasting his brown one. He was almost too intense to look at. Almost.
“How did you get the scratches?” His gaze settled on her cheek.
“One of the other patients started a fight,” she said, covering her cheek with her hand. “I guess she doesn’t like me.”
“What’s not to like? You seem okay to me.”
Oddly, his statement made her stomach do a flip-flop. “Thanks.”
“You know how some people are, quick to judge.” He dropped his fork and bent to retrieve it.
Moira pictured herself reaching over and brushing back the lock of dark hair that fell across his forehead. She glanced nervously over her shoulder. Jack and Isabella were strangely silent. Isabella was probably just trying to figure out what childish thing she could say, but Jack…she knew that Jack was sizing Adam up; he did it with every man she came into contact with. And she knew he wouldn’t appreciate her noticing how handsome Adam was either.
“I’m sure they upped her meds,” Adam said as he tossed the fork onto the table again. “This place sucks. It won’t do a damn thing but make you spill your guts, drive you crazy or turn you into a zombie. Last pills they sent me home with made me feel like my skull was being split with a meat cleaver.”
“So you stopped taking them?”
“How did you end up back here?”
“My brother called the cops. Lying asshole, I should be used to it by now,” Adam muttered. “I was staying with him until I got my shit together, but he walked in on me as I was flushing my pill down the toilet and freaked out.” A look of distress crossed his face. “Whatever, I’ll be out soon enough.” He finished his roll and started on an apple. “What did your doctor put you on? Who is your doctor anyways?”
“Um, he hasn’t put me on anything yet. I see Dr. Cassano.”
“Ahh, Dr. Cassano.” He raised an eyebrow. “I hear the nurses talking about him all the time.”
“He’s nice enough.”
“I see Dr. Leo. He’s an asshole.” He spit out the bite of his apple and without getting up, tossed the rest of it into the garbage, basketball style. “Have you spoken to your ghosts about leaving?”
“You want me to ask them for you?”
“Seriously?” She stayed an initial surge of hopefulness and reminded herself that Adam was in here because he was crazy. Not like her at all.
“I can try.”
He settled back and stared right at Isabella. That’s a fluke, she thought. He just picked an empty spot next to me.
“You need to go,” Adam said simply. “Moira doesn’t want you around her.” He waited a beat. “Wow, she’s hostel. Kids can be such brats. I’ll try your other one.”
He looked right at where Jack stood. The other empty spot next to me, she reminded herself.
“Leave. Your time is done, tall guy. You have no business being here anymore.”
She felt Jack’s presence crackle with anger.
“He’s even more hostel than she is,” Adam said. “Sucks for you.”
Moira felt her hopes deflate. Well, it’s not as if he can really see them, she thought. “Thanks anyways.”
He aimed his plastic cup towards the trash and tossed it. It missed and rolled towards the kitchen door. “Damn. No points for me.”
The cook leaned out the kitchen door and waved his ladle at them. “Stop tossing your garbage everywhere, you’re getting milk on the floor. Somebody’s got to mop that up.”
“I hate that a culinary genius like you has to do that,” Adam called back with a straight face.
“Smart ass,” the cook replied. “You lucky I don’t spit in your food.”
Adam held his hands up in mock surrender. “I know you say that with love, Nathan.” He picked up his tray. “See you around.”
Moira watched him swagger away. It suddenly dawned on her that she hadn’t mentioned Isabella was a child or said anything about Jack.
“I’m bored,” Isabella complained.
“You’re always bored.” Moira flipped the page of her sketchbook and started another drawing of the hospital.
Isabella flopped down on the bed. “Play a game with me, Moira.”
“I don’t feel like it.”
“You never feel like it. Ever since you got here.”
Moira sighed, exasperated. “Isabella, I can’t exactly play a game with you while everyone can hear and see me, can I? If I start doing that, they’ll never let me out.”
“I wish you’d never been sent here! I hate it!” Isabella cried. She sat up and glared at Jack, who had been standing by the window observing them. “Why did you make her attack that man?”
“I was protecting her.” Jack’s expression hardened. “I don’t need to explain myself to you.”
Moira made an irritated sound. “That’s bullshit, Jack, and you know it. You weren’t protecting me.”
“He would have left,” Isabella continued. “Moira said, ‘No thank you,’ I heard her!”
“He put his foot in the door,” Jack snapped. “You don’t know anything. You’re only six, Isabella. I know what he was thinking—”
“You told me you didn’t!” Isabella tilted her chin defiantly. “You said you were just getting back at her—”
“You lying little—” He lunged forward.
“Leave her alone!” Moira slammed her sketchbook shut. “Stop fighting, both of you. I can’t concentrate if you two are going to bitch at each other the whole time.”
Jack hovered over Isabella for a moment longer before he finally pulled back.
“It doesn’t matter anyways,” Moira continued bitterly. “I’m here now.” She stood and gathered her sketchbooks.
It would have been a grand exit, except for the fact that the both of them followed her to the door. That, and she practically ran into her nurse opening it.
“Afternoon, Moira,” Sheila said brightly. “You have a visitor.”
Adam leaned in from behind her.
“Hi,” Moira said, surprised.
She glanced behind her. Jack had retreated to the corner of the room. Isabella lingered beside him, seemingly unsure. “Not exactly.”
“Nurse Sheila,” Adam said as if he were talking to a child, “I know how much you love me, but may I have some private time with my friend now?”
“If you need me, Moira, I’m down the hall.” Sheila eyed Adam warily. “You have a buzzer too.”
“Nice place you’ve got here,” Adam said after the nurse left. “Looks familiar, oddly enough.”
“Yeah, it’s…home for now.”
“Didn’t see you in the dining room at breakfast.”
“I usually have breakfast in here.”
“Didn’t see you at lunch either.”
She glanced at her leftover spaghetti and hard dinner roll. “I was just finishing up.”
“You left me alone with all the crazies,” Adam said. “You okay?”
Hesitating, Moira picked up her plate and dumped the spaghetti into the garbage. “I’m having one of those days when I just want out.” She scraped the plate clean with a plastic knife.
“Want to go for a walk?” Adam asked.
A chill crept up her spine as she felt Jack’s presence behind her. Moira’s hand tightened convulsively on the plastic knife handle. “Around the hospital?”
“Unless you want to make a break for it?”
Adam approached her and Jack backed away slightly. Well, that’s interesting, she thought. Moira quickly dropped the knife into the garbage. “I’d love to go for a walk.”
“Let’s go, then,” Adam said. “Once we get past the station, I’ll strip naked to distract the nurse, and you knock her over the head. We’ll be out of here before they even catch us.”
Moira paused, torn between laughter and thinking he would actually do it.
“Kidding,” he grinned.
“How did group session go, Moira?”
She sat in Dr. Cassano’s office the next morning. Sunlight streamed through the windows, and she found herself wishing she were outside, enjoying it with Adam. The thought surprised her a little, considering Jack’s threats the day before. But she had stood up to him, and she was proud of herself for doing so. “Group session was great. I like Dr. Whyte.”
“She’s got a good reputation.” He studied her for a moment. “How do the other patients seem to you?”
“They’re okay.” Moira fiddled with the hem of her T-shirt. “There’s this one guy in the group. Adam.”
“What about him?”
“Has he been giving you any problems?”
“No. He’s nice enough.” She caught Jack’s eye. A mixture of fear and recklessness hit her. “We had dinner together. In the dining room.” She couldn’t stop the small smile that touched her lips.
“I see.” He made a note.
“What are you writing?” Moira asked.
“Nothing. Just that the sessions are acceptable for you.”
Isabella peered over his shoulder. “Oh, I don’t think so.”
Jack glanced Dr. Cassano’s notes. He clenched his fists and turned his back to her.
“The session was very helpful,” Moira said quickly. She didn’t regret time spent with Adam, but she worried about following him up to the rooftop. The last thing she wanted to do was to get into trouble.
“That’s good,” Dr. Cassano replied. “Can we…discuss what happened the other day?” He glanced at his broken name plaque, which was held together by a rubber band.
Dammit, she thought. Did you really expect him to let that go?
“You said that you could see Jack,” he continued. “Is he here today?”
She glanced nervously at Jack, who was still facing the window. Moira braced herself. “Yes.”
“Is Isabella here too?”
A line of tension ran along her spine. “She is.”
“Can you point them out to me? Tell me what they’re doing?”
“Why?” she said. “You can’t see them.”
“True.” A small frown crossed his brow.
Jack is going to flip out, Moira thought, her heart pounding. But I can’t stand this anymore, I can’t. “Isabella is standing beside you looking at what you wrote just now.” Dr. Cassano’s hand moved reflexively over his notes, which she found kind of funny. “And Jack,” she said, glancing at him, “is sulking.”
“Fuck you, Moira,” Jack murmured.
“Why is he sulking?”
“Because that’s what he does,” she said. “He doesn’t want me to tell you I can see him. I guess it’s supposed to be our dirty little secret.”
Jack turned to her, his face furious. “If you tell him anything else about me, Moira, anything at all…I will break you.”
“Now, he’s pissed off,” she continued recklessly.
Jack pointed his finger. “You don’t know what he’s writing!”
“I don’t care,” she retorted. “It’s your fault I’m here. Deal with it! I’m tired of your tantrums.”
“He writes down every, little thing about your personal business,” Jack said, emphasizing each word.
“That’s what he’s supposed to do!”
“It’s not for the reason you think,” Jack argued. “He wants to keep you here!”
“No, he doesn’t!”
“You want to know why? I’ll tell you why!” Jack continued. “He wants to fuck you!”
Moira felt a rush of anger. She trusted Dr. Cassano implicitly and knew he’d never cross that line. “You were no better,” she raged. “And guess what, Jack? It was no then, and now it’s just impossible.”
Jack stalked over and gave her chair a shove. The slap that followed rocked her head backwards.
Dr. Cassano stood abruptly.
“Fight, fight!” Isabella skipped around the room, laughing shrilly.
“It’s my fault you’re here?” Jack yelled. “I think it’s the other way around!”
“That’s not true!” She rubbed her cheek and caught Dr. Cassano’s look of horror. Before Dr. Cassano could say anything, she fled his office.
Moira ran down the hallway towards the elevator. I blew it, she thought frantically. They’ll never let me leave this place. But she hadn’t expected Jack to hit her either. He had only done that once before.
And he had paid for it.
“Moira?” Dr. Cassano called from the end of the hall.
She bolted for the stair exit, slipping behind the door. It closed with a quiet hiss and she leaned against it, listening. Moira’s heart pounded in her chest with a force that made her head hurt.
“He’s going to drag you back into his office,” Jack whispered in her ear.
She nudged his presence away with her shoulder.
“You’ll never make it down all those stairs before he catches up with you.”
They were on the concrete landing of the fourth floor. Jack was right. Dr. Cassano would reach her before she made it down the first flight of stairs.
“I don’t like it when you talk to him about me,” Isabella whined.
“Of course you don’t,” Jack soothed. “Moira was being mean, wasn’t she?”
Isabella nodded, looking injured.
“Let’s play a game,” he said.
“A game, a game!” She clapped her hands, her previous mood dissolved. “Let’s play tag!” She grabbed Moira’s arm with an icy hand. “If he tags you, you’ll be it.”
“Tag, that’s perfect, Isabella,” Jack said. “I think Moira should jump. It’s the only way she’s going to get away.”
Isabella looked over the railing. An uncertain frown crossed her face.
“It’s not that far,” he said.
“It is so!” she argued.
“No. It isn’t.” Jack pressed himself against Moira. “I want to see her try and get away.”
“It’s a long way down.”
“Shut up, Isabella” he growled.
Isabella shrunk back for a second and then cocked her head, listening. “He’s coming!”
“If he drags her back to his office, no telling what he’ll do,” Jack said. “This is tag, Isabella. Moira has to get away or she’ll be it.”
Excited, Isabella ran back and forth between them and the door. “He’s coming, Moira! Jump!”
Jack backed Moira up to the railing. She glanced over her shoulder at the dizzying height of the stairwell. The railing dug into her back. The coldness of Jack’s presence seeped through her body. She could hear Dr. Cassano calling her name. Moira opened her mouth to answer him.
“Don’t,” Jack murmured.
Panicked, she tried to push past him and couldn’t.
“I can feel how scared you are.” Something bordering on hunger crept into his voice. “How scared would you be if you fell?” His presence pressed against her and she cringed. “Your heart is beating so hard, Moira. And your breath…it’s coming faster too.”
A wave of dizziness threatened to overcome her. In a fit of desperation, she pushed through Jack’s presence and stumbled. She grabbed the railing with both hands and fled down the stairs, grasping it tightly all the way down. Icy tremors reverberated throughout her core like aftershocks.
About the Author
Clarissa Johal is the author of paranormal novels, THE ISLAND, VOICES, STRUCK, and BETWEEN. When she’s not listening to the ghosts in her head, she’s dancing, taking pictures of gargoyles, or swinging from a trapeze. She shares her life with her husband, two daughters, and every stray animal that darkens their doorstep.
*Member of the Horror Writers Association